Churches and speakers have dropped out of one of largest evangelical leadership gatherings of the year. Will it make any difference to Willow Creek?
Coming August 9-10 is the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. This international event has in the past involved over 600 locations in the U.S. and some of the biggest names in Christianity. Over the years, millions of Christians have watched on location at the church near Chicago or at a simulcast venue.
However, this year some changes in the speakers and the venues have happened as a result of the scandal which has engulfed the church since Bill Hybels announced in October 2017 that he would retire in 2018. Then in March of this year, the Chicago Tribune published a story with the disclosures of women alleging misconduct against Hybels. The next day Hybels denied the allegations and then in April he stepped aside from all Willow Creek activities, including the Leadership Summit.
Numerous observers have faulted Willow Creek’s leadership for their handling of the allegations before and after they became public. In reaction to the situation, three speakers who had planned to speak to the GLS — Denzel Washington, A.R. Bernard and Lisa Bodell — pulled out. You can see the full line up remaining here.
Churches are Dropping Out
Even though the show is going on, a unknown number of churches and venues have pulled out. According to Australian Benjamin Ady, 120 churches have canceled involvement in the GLS since April. Ady told me that altogether over 200 churches have backed out of hosting the event but he hasn’t confirmed the reasons. Ady contacted all the venues he could find to ask them to consider pausing their involvement to show support for the women who disclosed their experience with Hybels.
One church, Life Center in Tacoma, wrote me to say they indeed had canceled in response to the recent events. Other churches have made announcements pointing to Hybels and Willow Creek Church as the reason. For instance, Dave Rodriguez of Grace Church in Indiana preached a sermon regarding their decision to pull out. The Vineyard Church in Cincinnati recently pulled out as well, announcing the move on their website:
Many of you know that we have been a host site for Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit for 14 years. Some of you may have heard that the pastor of Willow Creek Church, Bill Hybels, has recently resigned amid allegations of misconduct with women perpetrated over many years. (See CHRISTIANITY TODAY ARTICLES)
After much thought and prayer, we have decided that Vineyard Cincinnati Church will not be a host site of the Global Leadership Summit this year.
We are reminded from Scripture that God calls us to defend the vulnerable — the orphan, the widow, the oppressed and those who suffer under the misuse of power.
In short, God cares deeply how those who possess power use that power. We pray that women everywhere who have suffered would see that God’s people stand with them and love them and care for them.
Another large church pulling out is Christ Church Oak Brook (IL) with this explanation:
In light of the allegations now swirling around the former senior pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church AND the larger national movement drawing needed attention to the stories of women treated in harmful ways, this message comes to inform you that Christ Church will not serve as a host site for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) this coming August. For those of you who have registered for the conference or planned to bring others, I know this may be a shock or an inconvenience. I apologize for that. This is why I am writing to you.
I wrote the Willow Creek Association to find out if the drop outs have hurt their registrations or projected attendance. After a day, I have not received a reply. I have not been able to independently confirm that all 120 churches have pulled out.
WCA did make one response to the controversy which was to inform their members and constituents that the conference would go on without Hybels, Denzel Washington, A.R. Bernard and Lisa Bodell (Read the letter here).
According to the website, there are plenty of locations if one must be schooled in Willow Creek methods of leadership. However, it may be worth reflecting on what leadership would look like in this situation. Some leaders have decided that the best lessons might come from not attending.
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